Deadly heatwave hits SADC states


Mpho Tebele

Gaborone - A deadly heatwave is sweeping across the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region and killed at least one person in Botswana last week.

There are fears that as temperatures reach above 40° Celcius, people’s lives and those of wild animals are at risk across the region with Botswana and Zimbabwe having also recorded a considerable number of elephant deaths related to heatwaves and drought.

Following the death of a 77-year old man in Botswana due to excess heat as he was reportedly queuing to cast his vote, SADC issued an “Extreme Temperature Alert” warning that temperatures above 35°C were expected in the bulk of central SADC.

The SADC Climate Services Centre also warned that maximum temperatures were expected to significantly rise in central parts of region, reaching heatwave thresholds.

“Parts of central SADC will experience temperatures above 35°C over a consecutive period of three days and occasions where temperatures have a high probability to exceed 40°C thus reaching the threshold for heatwave alert during the forecast period,” said the SADC Climate Services Centre.

Extreme south-eastern Angola, north and eastern most parts of Botswana, eastern half of Eswatini, south-western parts of Madagascar, southern Malawi, most of Mozambique, extreme north-eastern Namibia, eastern fringes of South Africa, south and eastern Zambia, northern fringes and southern half of Zimbabwe will have a high probability to experience a heatwave in the next few days.

Most of the central parts of the SADC region stretching from southern Angola through eastern Namibia, Botswana, most of Zambia, Zimbabwe, southern Malawi to northern Mozambique and southern Tanzania were put in a heatwave watch category. Western Madagascar is also in a watch category for a potential heat wave.

The SADC centre stated that for parts of the region where there was a high probability for a heat-wave to be experienced, there was a need to adhere to all the health advisories provided by local institutions in member states.

“Precautions are advised in these areas to avoid heat related health problems, such as heat stroke amongst others. Users are encouraged to consult the national meteorological and hydro-meteorological services (NMHSs) in the SADC member states interpretation and the relevant national institutions,” it said.

Most SADC member states have warned citizens to take precautions amid fears that the current heatwave could result in deaths. Daytime temperatures have soared to as high as 39-40 degrees Celsius in recent days as a heat wave strikes the region.

This comes in the wake of a new report on The Global Climate which has identified significant changes in climate in the last five years since 2015, including in Southern Africa, suggesting a renewed threat of climate change impacts and variability.

The report by the World Meteorological Organisation ahead of the United Nations Climate Summit held in New York in September, reveals severe changes in climate in the last five years, including dramatic changes in temperature, sea level rise, and extreme weather events.

Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere have also increased to record levels, locking in the warming trend for generations to come.

The report shows that 90 percent of natural disasters experienced in the period 2015-2019 are related to weather, with developing countries being the most affected due to limited adaptive capacities.

The weather events include storms and flooding, heat waves and drought that continue to result in human and economic losses.

Such climate extremes disrupt the agricultural economy, hydroelectric production and human settlements, and also affect critical communications and social infrastructure, reversing socio-economic development gains.

Global average temperature has increased by 1.1°C since the pre-industrial period, and by 0.2°C compared to 2011-2015.

The period 2015–2019 is the warmest on record, with the year 2016 being the warmest year on record globally with over 1°C higher than the pre-industrial period.

The increase in temperatures results in a rise in evaporation loses from reservoirs that support urban, rural, industrial and agricultural water needs in the region. For example in 2007, evaporation led to extremely low water levels in most of Zimbabwe’s dams, causing many to be decommissioned.

The region is particularly vulnerable due to its heavy dependence on rain-fed agriculture and climate-sensitive resources.

The sensitivity of agriculture to climate-induced water stress is likely to deepen the existing challenges of declining agricultural outputs, declining economic productivity, poverty and food insecurity, with smallholder farmers particularly affected.

Droughts continue to pose a challenge in the region since 2015. The El Niño-induced drought during the 2015/16 season was described as the worst in 35 years.

This has also impacted on the energy sector, with low rainfall received in the 2015/16 season causing large parts of the region to record very low water levels in reservoirs and rivers, affecting energy generation.

Declining water levels in Lake Kariba between Zambia and Zimbabwe is an issue of major concern as this resulted in low hydropower generation.

In October 2015, Tanzania was forced to switch off all its hydropower plants due to low water levels in the major dams. As a result of the low water levels, hydro-electricity generation fell to 20 percent of capacity, making it difficult for the dams to operate.

Tanzania, which has significant gas reserves, has since converted its infrastructure in key areas to use mainly natural gas.

Of concern to countries with extensive low-lying coastal areas such as Mozambique is the continued global rise in sea levels. Over the period under review, the rate of global mean sea-level rise amounted to 5 mm per year, compared with 4 mm per year in the decade 2007-2016. This is substantially faster than the average rate since 1993 of 3.2 mm/year.

The main driver for the rise is ice melt from the world glaciers and the ice sheets, rather than thermal expansion.

More than 60 percent of the Mozambican population lives in low-lying coastal areas. The rise in sea level poses great risk to their infrastructure, coastal agriculture, key ecosystems and fisheries, in areas already prone to tropical storms from the Mozambique Channel.

Between January and April 2019, the region faced several weather-related phenomena such as tropical cyclones Desmond, Enawo, Idai and Kenneth, which caused extensive flooding in countries such as the Union of Comoros, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

Cyclone Idai, recorded as one of the worst tropical storms to ever affect Africa and the southern hemisphere, claimed hundreds of lives and left a trail of destruction, including severe damage to key infrastructure such as roads, bridges, schools and clinics.

Over 800,000 hectares of cropland as well as crops and seed stocks were destroyed by the cyclone, while about 3.3 million people were left in need of immediate humanitarian assistance such as food, shelter, clothing, potable water, sanitation and medical support.

The three largest economic losses on record from wildfires and influenced by droughts, all occurred in the last four years.  Wildfires have increased in intensity, particularly forested areas, and especially in the Amazon forests of Brazil.

This has led to massive releases of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, impacting on far-off areas such as southern Africa.

In order to prepare for future hazards, the 39th SADC Summit called on member states to implement comprehensive multi-year response plans to tackle the recurrent droughts and food insecurity challenges.

In light of the increasing impacts of climate change, the establishment of vibrant disaster-risk strategies is a priority for southern Africa.

Pursuant to this, the SADC Secretariat in collaboration with member states is developing a strategy for effective coordination of disaster responses.

Implementation of the SADC Disaster Preparedness and Response Strategy will ensure that mechanisms and adequate resources are available for the effective management of disasters. - Additional reporting by






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